The Son Parent Guide
Depressing and emotionally harrowing, this movie provides little education and less entertainment.
Parent Movie Review
High powered lawyer Peter (Hugh Jackman) is on top of the world. Literally - his gleaming office has floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Empire State Building. His beautiful wife, Beth (Vanessa Kirby) has recently had a baby boy and life couldn’t be better. Then Peter’s ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) shows up with bad news: their 17-year-old son has been skipping school for a month and his moods are so intense that Kate is frightened of him.
Peter is appropriately concerned and has a chat with Nicholas (Zen McGrath) who insists that he’s just feeling weighed down by life and that he’ll improve if he can live with his dad. Peter agrees, and Nicholas moves in on a tide of buoyant optimism. What Peter doesn’t realize is that Nicholas is seriously mentally ill and a change in residence is not going to solve his problems.
It should come as no surprise that a movie about depression should be so, well, depressing, but I did not expect the tsunami of sadness that pours off the screen, mixed in with huge amounts of parental guilt. This is not a movie for the faint of heart. Seriously. If you worry about your kids or are concerned about your own parental inadequacies, don’t watch this film. You’ll never sleep again.
Much of the story feels like a giant guilt festival for Peter. Nicholas tells his dad that his depression stems from a sense of abandonment during the divorce. Kate reminds him of how much she loved him and how happy they were together. Beth is frustrated that he puts in such long hours at work, leaving her alone with baby Theo. But the most powerful guilt delivery system is Peter’s own mind: he is incapable of detaching himself from Nicholas’s illness and seeing it as anything other than a manifestation of his paternal failures.
If watching someone endure constant stress and self-reproach is your idea of entertainment, then The Son is the movie for you. I’m not sure who else is going to want to watch it. There are other movies about adolescent mental illness that spend less time beating up parents and give a more insightful look at the emotional landscape of the affected teens. True, this film has outstanding performances by its adult cast (Zen McGrath is a bit wobbly as Nicholas) but not even Hugh Jackman’s harrowing performance as Peter is enough to make me sit through two hours of heartache and a frustrating final scene again.
If you are still considering The Son for prime time viewing, you will want to bear in mind that suicide is a major theme of the film, with two off screen attempts. A teen is also seen with scars and fresh knife cuts on his arm, and a knife is found in his bed. This film doesn’t sugar coat mental illness but it doesn’t really do a great job of depicting it either. Given that Florian Zeller is a talented director, this movie is a disappointment. Frankly, if you want a film with intense family dynamics and a standout cast, you should watch his earlier film The Father. Now, that’s a film that feels unsettling real.Directed by Florian Zeller. Starring Vanessa Kirby, Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Jackman. Running time: 123 minutes. Theatrical release January 20, 2023. Updated January 22, 2024
Watch the trailer for The Son
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Son rated PG-13? The Son is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for mature thematic content involving suicide, and strong language.
Violence: There are a few scenes of pushing and shoving. In one, a teen falls to the floor. In another a teen attacks medical staff. Scars and fresh cuts are seen on a teen’s arm. A knife is found in a teenager’s bed. A character attempts suicide off screen on two occasions: a gunshot is heard but nothing is seen.
Sexual Content: A married man and woman kiss passionately.
Profanity: There are over a dozen profanities in the film, including three sexual expletives as well as scatological curses, terms of deity, crude anatomical expressions, and minor profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults are seen drinking alcohol with meals or to unwind from a stressful day. A main character mentions being drunk but is not seen intoxicated.
Page last updated January 22, 2024
The Son Parents' Guide
What emotional baggage does Peter carry from his relationship with his father? How does that affect the way he relates to his son? How does Peter overcome his own family issues to be available to Nicholas? How do Nicholas’s problems affect Peter?
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Mental illness is increasingly depicted in movies. In Paper Spiders, a teenage girl struggles to manage as her mother develops paranoid delusions. It’s Kind of a Funny Story tells the tale of Craig, a teenager who winds up in an adult psych ward. A high school senior falls for a new student in Chemical Hearts, only to discover that she grapples with depression due to a traumatic event in her past. Reeling from the suicide of his friend, Charlie is unenthused about starting high school but he is befriended by two other teens in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Anxious to make a fresh start after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Adam moves to a new high school. In Words on Bathroom Walls he begins an experimental prescription regimen and also falls in love.
A devoted father does everything he can to try to save his son from drugs in Beautiful Boy.